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Federal, B.C. ministers began pipeline talks with hereditary chiefs

Sit-down with chiefs wraps

UPDATE: 9:15 p.m.

A meeting between Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and federal and B.C. ministers has ended for the day in Smithers, B.C., with a plan to resume Friday morning.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser didn't provide details of what was discussed when the meeting ended, less than three hours after it began.

Fraser says the talks were productive and the mood in the room was respectful, while Bennett adds it was a very good start.

Freda Huson, spokeswoman for the Unist'ot'en camp that has been set up near a Coastal GasLink pipeline work site, says the meeting covered introductions and was respectful.

Wet'suwet'en member Bonnie George, who supports the pipeline, wasn't invited to the meeting but says she and others entered the room and read a statement that said the entire nation needs to be represented and not just a small fraction.

She says the statement caused a "little bit of tension" but a majority of those in the meeting were respectful and she believes it's a first step towards reconciliation.


ORIGINAL: 3:50 p.m.

The hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en sat down Thursday with senior government ministers to discuss a pipeline dispute that has caused protests across the country, shutting down freight and passenger rail services.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser arrived separately for the meeting with the hereditary chiefs, starting long-sought talks in the impasse.

Before the meeting began, both the RCMP and Coastal GasLink said they agreed to conditions requested by the chiefs to allow the discussions to progress.

The natural gas company agreed to a two-day pause in its activities in northwestern B.C., while the RCMP committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway while the negotiations unfold.

The chiefs praised the moves in a statement released before the talks got underway.

"We believe these conditions provide the space we need to be able to sit down at the table in good faith and a positive path forward," the statement read.

"We are so close and have called on the provincial and federal governments to support this de-escalation of activities so that this issue can be resolved."

The chiefs said the meeting with Bennett and Fraser is a "first step," noting both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan declined invitations to discuss the long-simmering issues that have gained fresh urgency in recent weeks.

The chiefs' opposition to a natural gas pipeline cutting across their traditional territory, coupled with their efforts to limit police presence on their lands, have sparked shows of support across the country that have halted rail service for the past three weeks.

Both Bennett and Fraser said they hoped the meetings would pave the way to end the dispute and protests.

"We're looking forward to the meeting," Bennett said moments after arriving in Smithers. "Obviously this is very important. We reaffirm our interest in talking to the Wet'suwet'en Nation and their issues of title and rights."

Fraser largely echoed Bennett in a statement issued shortly before his departure for the meeting.

"We are pleased to have been able to arrange for further talks with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs," the statement read. "We are coming to the table with a commitment to respectful dialogue and are focused on finding a peaceful path forward."

Horgan said he has met with the hereditary leaders twice over the past year and a half and is prepared to sit down with them again, but there need to be conditions for constructive dialogue.

Fraser understands the community's governance issues and Bennett represents the Crown in Canada, so the best way forward is for them to be at the table, he said.

"I think that this is a good step. I've been seeking peaceful dialogue for a couple of weeks and here we are," he said. "I'm looking forward to harmony as a result of those discussions."

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the meeting was a victory for open dialogue and peaceful resolution, but it is only the beginning as there are underlying rights and title issues that will take time to resolve.



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Husband of missing woman charged with threatening her

Charged for threatening wife

The husband of a New Westminster mother who disappeared this week was charged with threatening his wife in January.

CTV News reports Rishi Deo Sharma was charged late last month for uttering threats against his wife Nirla Sharma. He was released on bail, with conditions not to contact Nirla or their children.

After Nirla disappeared early Monday morning, sparking a search, Rishi was charged with breaching his bail conditions. None of the charges against Rishi has been proven in court.

The couple's daughter told CTV News she believes the charges against her father have nothing to do with her mother's disappearance, and police say they currently have no suspects in the case.

“At this point, this is a missing persons investigation,” New Westminster Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jeff Scott told CTV News. “We are not at a point in the investigation where we can rule out foul play. So the detectives are exploring all the different avenues."

Nirla was last seen by her family Sunday night as she went to bed, but she was gone in the morning. Her daughter said she heard their door open at 4 a.m., and thought her mother was taking their dog out for a walk. Her father woke her at 7 a.m. to tell her Nirla had not returned.

– with files from CTV Vancouver



Vancouver police uncover cache of weapons in Oppenheimer Park

Huge gun cache at tent city

A cache of weaponry large enough to fuel a massive, armed confrontation was found by police in Oppenheimer Park Tuesday night.

The haul included nine guns, more than 30 knives, two machetes, two axes, a hunting bow, several air rifles and a replica uzi.

“This is a unique seizure because of the size of the stash of weapons in this one location,” Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Sgt.  Aaron Roed said in a news release.

The weapons were found in plain sight within a communal tent in the park. The tent’s occupant has not been identified.

VPD investigators are now analyzing the cache to determine which weapons are real versus replicas.

Officers were in the area responding to a 9-1-1 call about a domestic dispute in progress in the park, inside a tent.

All in, the VPD’s haul included:

  • one airsoft Glock handgun
  • one SKS rifle
  • one airsoft AR-15
  • two 6mm cal. orange handguns
  • one silver revolver
  • suspected replica Uzi
  • suspected replica rifle receiver
  • one rifle butt stock sawed off
  • seven cans of bear spray
  • one compound hunting bow
  • over 30 knives
  • two machetes
  • two axes
  • two smoke grenades
  • two smoke bombs
  • one pair of handcuffs
  • various shotgun shells and rifle ammunition
  • over a dozen propane tanks
  • drugs, including powders, pills and liquids
  • multiple bicycles

The remaining weapons and drugs are in police custody and will be destroyed.

“We are working with the community to keep the neighbourhood safe,” Roed said. “Taking these weapons off the streets is another step in the right direction. Officers will continue providing a presence, keeping the peace, and ensuring public safety for the park and surrounding neighbourhood.”



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Lower Nicola band to reap economic benefits from power project

Band buys transmission line

Lower Nicola Indian Band Development Corp. will own, operate and maintain the 24-kilometre Kingsvale electricity transmission line that will run through its traditional territory.

The 138-kilovolt line will connect from BC Hydro’s distribution line and provide additional power to Trans Mountain Canada’s existing and new Kingsvale pump stations that are part of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Lower Nicola partnered with Trans Mountain and Valard Construction on the new line, which it says will create economic opportunities in the region.

“This will be the first electricity transmission line to be constructed, majority owned, operated, maintained and financed by an Indigenous group in Canada,” Lower Nicola Development Corp. general manager Kevin Ainsworth said in a press release. “This project will provide valuable economic benefits to the Lower Nicola Indian Band.”

The line is expected to be completed by August, and Lower Nicola Development Corp., along with Valard, has negotiated a 20-year contract with Trans Mountain.

“We are proud to partner with LNIB and Valard on this unique project, which will provide direct and lasting economic opportunities,” Trans Mountain CEO Ian Anderson said. “We are committed to ensuring that Indigenous communities share in the benefits of the expansion project and the partnerships we are creating are based on trust, respect and collaboration.”



Miranda Kerr was seen skiing in Revelstoke recently

Super model hits the slopes

She's been spotted in Revelstoke, and some are wondering if former model Miranda Kerr might hit the slopes of Silver Star or Big White.

The former Victoria Secret Angel has posted several pictures on social media of her and friends hitting the slopes in Revelstoke. According to the post she has been at the hill for several days.

The news of the Australian super model frolicking so close to the Okanagan has people wondering if she may be stopping here as well.

Kerr was born in Sydney, Australia and raised in the small town of Gunnedah.

She became one of the top Victoria Secret Angels, as well as one of the highest paid models in the world, before launching her own brand of organic skincare products, KORA Organics.

She has also written a self-help book.

Kerr was married to Hollywood A lister Orlando Bloom, but has since remarried Snapchat co-founder and billionaire Evan Spiegel.



Minor injuries as helicopter crashes near Whistler

Chopper totalled in crash

An earlier version of this story erroneously included information before we verified it with Transport Canada. We should not have published the unverified information and we apologize to Blackcomb Helicopters for having done so.

The pilot and passengers of a Blackcomb Helicopters aircraft sustained minor injuries in a crash northwest of Brandywine Mountain, police confirm.

Whistler RCMP were notified Monday that a helicopter had crashed in the Callaghan Conservancy area. The helicopter rolled over while landing in the backcountry.

The pilot and passengers were all able to exit the aircraft with only minor injuries reported. The helicopter was totalled in the crash, however.

Transport Canada is investigating the incident, the third major accident for Blackcomb Helicopters dating back to 2018, according to an incident report.



Comedian Ricky Gervais says BC beer best he's ever tasted

Gervais praises BC brew

British comedian Ricky Gervais likes his B.C. beer.

Asked by a fan what brew he likes best, the funny man replied on Twitter: "I like so many and I can't remember all the names. I like Brooklyn lager and loads from different micro breweries around the world. I remember thinking 'Gypsies Tears' in Vancouver was the best beer I'd ever tasted though."

Brewed by Vancouver's Parallel 49, the "northwest red ale" has since been renamed Ruby Tears, CTV News reports.

"That's one of ours, Ricky," the brewery responded. "Talk about a compliment!"

In Gervais' honour, the craft brewhouse changed the name of the beer on its tap list to "Ricky Tears" and is donating 25 cents from every pint to an animal charity of the star's choosing.

– with files from CTV Vancouver



Off-duty officer helps apprehend Cache Creek car thief

Off-duty cop nabs car thief

A Williams Lake man is facing charges after allegedly stealing a car from a Cache Creek gas station and leading police, including an off-duty officer, on a wild chase last night (Feb. 26).

The off-duty officer, a Burnaby RCMP Staff Sergeant, saw a man chasing a silver Kia Rio on foot as he pulled into a gas station around 8 p.m. The man's vehicle had been taken after it was left idling outside the station; the officer began following the suspect as he drove north toward Clinton. 

"The off-duty officer followed the freshly stolen vehicle and provided vital updates to police dispatchers operating out of the Kelowna Operational Communications Centre, who relayed that information to responding frontline officers," reads a news release from the RCMP.

Clinton RCMP were able to stop the car using a spike belt and apprehended the suspect without further incident.

RCMP officers not only work and live, but often travel through communities across our beautiful province. This is just one example of how we are always ready to respond to emergencies, says Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey, spokesperson for the RCMP Southeast District, in the release. The off-duty officer’s situational awareness, and collaboration with our police dispatchers and Clinton RCMP officers resulted in the safe arrest during a situation which had the potential to harm someone.

The suspect was held in police custody overnight and later released. He is expected to make his first appearance in court on April 30.



Doctor wants public to regulate insurance in private clinics: lawyer

2-tier healthcare in court

A lawyer for patients and doctors fighting to maintain public health care in British Columbia says a proponent for private care wants to benefit from provincial regulation of private insurance while ignoring aspects of a law aimed at discouraging a parallel system.

Joe Arvay told B.C. Supreme Court today that Dr. Brian Day's position amounts to cherry picking parts of the Medicare Protection Act, which requires doctors to opt out of billing the government for work in the public system while also earning more money in private clinics.

Arvay says doctors who work in the public system are known to refer patients to private clinics where they also practise in order to bypass wait times that apply to everyone who can't afford to pay out of pocket or through private insurance.

He says the physicians stand to financially benefit from such a scheme and wait times are only exacerbated when they work outside the public system.

Day says private clinics, like the Cambie Surgery Centre that he owns, are needed because wait times are too long and worsen patients' conditions.

Arvay says Day has failed to establish any threshold for how long a wait is too long and never argued that the law should be changed to allow patients to get private surgery or diagnostic tests if current benchmarks for wait times set by the province are surpassed.



Surrey gets approval to create local police board, replace RCMP

Surrey Police gets go-ahead

Surrey has been given approval by the B.C. government to create a municipal police board as it continues on the path of replacing the RCMP.

Mayor Doug McCallum says with a population of 600,000 people, the creation of a local police force is "long overdue" for the city.

McCallum promised to replace the RCMP with a municipal force in the last municipal election campaign.

In a statement, the province's public safety minister and solicitor general said a committee was established in August to ensure the city's transition plan addressed all the key issues in the switch to a local force.

That committee, led by former judge Wally Oppal, has finished its work.

The province says a secretariat established last spring and the director of police services will provide support for the province and the city during the transition to a new police department.

The city told the RCMP in 2018 that it would terminate its agreement with the RCMP to provide local police services.

McCallum said the next step is to set up a police board.

"Local responsibility, priorities and oversight will reside within the Surrey Police Board, which will be comprised of our most qualified citizens," he said in a statement.



Pedestrian dead at scene of Highway 17 collision in Surrey

Pedestrian struck, killed

RCMP are seeking witnesses following a pedestrian fatality in Surrey Wednesday night.

Police were called to a report of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle on the 10200 block of Highway 17 about 6 p.m.

The victim was pronounced deceased at the scene.

The driver remained at the scene and was co-operating with police.

Highway 17 was closed to traffic between Nordel Way and Tannery Road for several hours. 

Anyone who witnessed the incident or has further information is asked to call Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or www.solvecrime.ca, quoting file number 2020-30155.



Hereditary Chief Edward John faces sex charges from 1974

Chief's court date delayed

After being accused and charged for allegedly having sexual intercourse with a female without her consent more than 45 years ago, B.C. Indigenous leader Edward John's arraignment hearing has once again been moved for the third time. 

Prosecutor Michael Klein and defence counsel Tony Paisana agreed to push the arraignment hearing back a third time on Wednesday, to March 25. 

Klein said they are awaiting one piece of information in order to proceed with the case. 

It was announced in November that John had been charged with four counts of having intimate relations with a female without her consent in 1974. 

John is a hereditary chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation near Fort St. James.

A special prosecutor is being used to “avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice,” considering John’s prominent stature.

The 70-year-old is charged with four counts of having sexual intercourse with a female person without her consent for incidents alleged to have occurred between Mar. 1 and Sept. 15, 1974.

John originally was scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 10, 2019, before that date was pushed back to Jan. 15. 

He completed his 11th consecutive term as an elected leader of the First Nations Summit's political executive in June. He did not seek re-election.



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